What's in a Sound?
The other day I was enjoying my lunch in the company
cafeteria, along with seven or eight co-workers. The urge hit me to let
out a nice, deep, satisfying Coca-Cola -propelled carbonation belch. And
so belch I did. Instantly I was scolded by the company nurse, who was
sitting opposite me and enjoyed the belch nearly as much as I did. "That's
disgusting!", she barked scornfully. Then she imperiously demanded
that I say "excuse me". Needless to say, I ignored her.
Now before I get into the matter of how or why a belch
could be so disgusting, what I'm really curious about is why it's OK to belch as
long as you say "excuse me" after you do it. Is it like lighting a match
after leaving a particularly foul-smelling stench in the bathroom, hoping that
the sulfur smell might cover up the deathly stink of fermenting feces?
What's so soothing about the words "excuse me"?
I tried uttering "excuse me" to myself but felt no effect.
No endorphin rush, no feeling of euphoria or even mild satisfaction. A
mirror did not help. Then I asked someone nearby to speak the phrase to
me. No difference. I had him say it several times, and still I
didn't feel anything. I asked him to belch and then say excuse me. I
felt absolutely no change in my state of emotion at all. Not after the
belch, and not after excusing himself. While I lacked a controlled
environment that meets the rigorous demands of truly scientific analysis,
empirical testing reveals that the phrase "excuse me" is apparently inert and
possesses no tangible properties nor yields any measurable effects.
The subject of manners is utterly fascinating. I
could ignore it forever! Perhaps if what's left of north American manners
and etiquette were not so entirely arbitrary, the subjects just might hold my
attention longer than a picosecond.
What is a belch?
A belch is just the gases in the stomach making their way
upwards, vibrating past the esophageal sphincter and eventually exiting the
mouth. Unless you have been consuming garlic or radishes or some other
barely digestible food, a belch is primarily odorless oxygen and nitrogen, and
perhaps equally odorless carbon dioxide if you have been drinking carbonated
refreshments. So, a belch is a sound. And the sound of a
belch does not translate to any kind of word or phrase in any spoken language on
this planet. In a handful of countries an audible belch signifies a
feeling of contentedness with your meal and is considered to be an accolade for
the chef. But it's still not word. A belch is just a meaningless
Apologies for stomping on George Carlin's territory, but I
can't fathom what's so disgusting about this sound. Unlike Carlin's "heavy
seven" - the handful of words supposedly so profane that by decree of the FCC
and America's repressed bible belt constituency they can never be uttered on
public radio or television - a belch has absolutely no negative connotation.
Not here. Not anywhere. A belch knows no language or dialect, and
has no translation. It is just a sound.
The nurse reflexively blurting out her feelings of offense
in response to my belch, is significant of thorough and flawless brainwashing,
and her behavior was a perfect Pavlovian response. Her parents, and most
likely her parents' parents, etc. no doubt instructed her from day one that
belching is disgusting. Equally doubtless is that stern behavior
modifications methods were used to reinforce that impression. To a parent, belching I admit can
indeed be fairly
disgusting. That is because when an infant belches, the activity is not
infrequently associated with reflux of the infant's food. While, yes, that
can be disgusting, or at least a bit messy and annoying, that is still not a
reason to brand the sound as disgusting when the actual problem boils
down to undeveloped gastric controls and/or the after-effects of doting parents'
excessive feeding impulses. Reflux or not, a belch is just a belch, and
it's still a mere sound.
I don't deny that the nurse felt genuinely disgusted.
What I do find amazing is the depth of brainwashing required to convince a
mother of fully adult offspring - and a nurse no less - that a forty year old
man producing a
first-octave note without the help of a tuba or a pipe organ is so shocking and
vile an act that it requires swift and firm retribution.
IT'S JUST A FUCKING SOUND!!!
Belching is considered to be impolite in most
places, I admit, if not necessarily agree. But "disgusting" seems much too
emphatic a word and the deeply shocked reactions are far too strong a response.
Then to think someone can make the boo-boo all better by grinning sheepishly and
numbly reciting the phrase "excuse me", is plainly absurd.
A belch is a harmless, meaningless sound and nothing more.
It's a sound made naturally by everyone, and attempts at suppressing that sound
may result in physical discomfort or the production of other more involuntary
sounds whose side-effects may in fact be odoriferous and tangibly disgusting. The only
reason you mindless automatons think a belch is disgusting is because your
guardians told you so and you were too happy to take their word for it. If
they had spent as much time telling you the color blue was disgusting, many of
you blindly conforming meat sacks would never leave the house on clear days,
sooner than question why you've had to carry an umbrella your entire life.
Next time something offends you, think for a moment about
why it offends you. Then SHUT THE FUCK UP.